Last weekend was the annual meeting of the African Studies Association, held this year in New Orleans. Despite the awful timing (why would anyone ever choose to have a conference right before Thanksgiving?), I definitely enjoyed it. It is a great opportunity to get input on one’s own work from disciplines as far afield as history and anthropology. I find that such feedback can greatly encourage lateral thinking. For instance, I had the opportunity to go to Stephanie Rupp’s talk on Saturday on Ghanaian attitudes towards China’s increasing involvement in infrastructure development. In that talk she discusses China’s involvement in constructing the Bui Dam in Ghana, a subject I am studying as well. But the neat thing is that she does this from an anthropological perspective, drawing on survey research.
One of the highlights of a conference like this, especially for young faculty such as myself, is getting to know others who are doing work in similar areas. Since my graduate student days, I have found participating with the African Politics Conference Group to be a great way to meet a lot of these people. One of their more interesting upcoming projects is a mentorship program for graduate students. Much of the time, there is only one Africanist teaching in any given graduate program. The idea here is to create a pool of Africanist professors that graduate students could call on when their own research interests/needs cannot be met within their own department. I also think this could be an excellent way for those of us teaching at liberal arts colleges to have occasional engagement with graduate students. Sandra Joireman (Wheaton) is one of the current organizers of this initiative.